Records: Lakers 21-7 (3rd in West), Bucks 10-16 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (1st in NBA), Bucks 100.2 (30th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.4 (11th in NBA), Bucks 102.9 (8th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bucks: Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, John Salmons, Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Bogut
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Bucks:Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette, Carlos Delfino, Michael Redd (out)
The Lakers Coming in: A 5 game win streak has the team building momentum but news of Andrew Bynum’s knee being “sore” after the Raptors game has fans on a bit of an emotional low. Now all questions are coming back to whether or not Bynum will ever be healthy and if his injury prone nature will hold the Lakers back in some way come playoff time.
All I can say to that is take a deep breath and relax. After reading countless interviews with Bynum and listening to him talk on a variety of occasions, if there’s one thing that needs to be known about ‘Drew it’s that he doesn’t have a filter and will say exactly what’s on his mind. So if his knee is a bit sore or if he felt a “sharp pain” he’ll say so without any reservations. This is great for media outlets that love fresh copy, but I can also say that these fantastic quotes don’t always tell the entire story. For one, Bynum isn’t the only player to ever have a sore knee. You think Kobe’s knee hasn’t been sore in the past 6 weeks? What about Odom’s? You think Pau hasn’t had a few moments where he’s felt a twinge in his hammy?
My point is that these guys are professional athletes and an ache or pain isn’t news. What’s news is that he said so when so many other athletes wouldn’t. I understand that with Bynum’s history these things are interpreted differently as it’s not a leap to imagine his next stint on the injured list. However, from all accounts the swelling is non-existent and his knee isn’t showing any ill effects from his most recent surgery. So, again, take a deep breath and relax. Understand that Bynum is going to share more than most but what he’s going through isn’t the most uncommon event ever.
The Bucks Coming in: The Bucks have lost 3 games in a row and it’s tough to find a silver lining for them. They’re currently really banged up and the recent revelation that Brandon Jennings is going to miss 4-6 weeks after needing surgery on his left foot is a tough blow. Just as bad is the fact that some of their players that they do have aren’t performing as well as expected. The biggest of which is John Salmons, who has yet to regain the form he showed during last season’s final stretch and playoffs. He’s scoring nearly 7 points a game less and his PER is only 10.9. When you consider that he’s supposed to be their go to scorer and now he’s one of their least efficient offensive players, that’s going to be a major problem.
This team has also fallen off some on defense. When the Lakers and Bucks played on November 16th, the Bucks were ranked #1 in defensive efficiency but in a month’s time they’ve fallen to 8th. Playing some really good offenses helped knock them down a notch, but for a team that struggles to score as much as this one does any drop off in their ability to slow the other team is going to be difficult to overcome. This team will still scrap and fight (remember, they’re coached by Scott Skiles), but if they don’t start to get better performances on offense from players that they expect more from while also picking up their defense to be a top 5 team on that side of the ball, it’s doubtful that the pre-season expectations of a playoff team that could get into the 2nd round are going to be fulfilled.
Keys to game: With the Bucks reeling, the best way to get a win is to jump on this team early and not let up. As mentioned earlier, Scott Skiles’ teams will fight hard so if you let them hang around they’re more than happy to keep punching in an attempt to steal the game late. With the Lakers having an advantage at every position and a deeper bench, they shouldn’t let it happen and instead should try to bury this team.
To get it acomplished, the Lakers need to work the mismatches that they have in their favor. Whoever Chris Douglas-Roberts is guarding (and I suspect it will be Artest) should get some opportunities in the post to over power the slender wing man. Lamar Odom should also get some post up and slashing opportunities against Ilyasova as LO is too physical down low for Ersan to deal with consistently. Obviously Kobe and Gasol will also get ample chances to do damage, but I’d really like them to use the offense to get their shots rather than going one on one to get their baskets. Not only do the Bucks have a good team defensive scheme to deal with isolations, but both Kobe and Pau have match ups that could theoretically bother them in Salmons (has the size to contest Kobe’s jumper and the quickness to stay with him on the wing) and Bogut (one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA). So work the ball around and let other guys do some of the heavy lifting.
However, in attacking the Bucks D the Lakers must be careful with the ball and not get too caught up in trying to make the difficult pass. The Lakers must play smart as the Bucks are 4th in the league in opponent’s and would love to get some extra possessions in the open court to get easier baskets. So, the Lakers must show patience in their sets, make the Bucks D rotate, and then make the easy pass to the open man to get a good shot. If they do those things, they’ll put themselves in a position to not only score efficiently but to also force the Bucks to play more against a set Lakers’ D when they take the ball the other way.
On defense, the Lakers just need to play smart and focused. Without Jennings the Bucks are going to struggle to create at PG and that greatly helps the Lakers shift their defense to better account for Salmons, Bogut, and CDR. The lack of an explosive penetrator allows the Lakers to show more help on these players and further strangle an offense that already struggles to breathe. If the Lakers simply understand the personnel that’s on the floor, play hard and with their heads, they shouldn’t struggle to get the needed stops that will fuel their transition and early offense.
In reality though, regardless of the keys to winning mentioned above, this game comes down to focus and staying in the moment of tonight. As we all know, there’s a pretty big game later this week that is easy to look ahead to. You throw in the fact that it’s the holiday season and it’s easy to be distracted right now. The Lakers need to keep their eyes on tonight’s opponent and not worry about later this week. If they do that, they’ll be just fine and we’ll be talking about a 6 game streak going into the Christmas Day game.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time in the west on Fox Sports. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am